More and more Nebraska families with children are single-parent families. According to the 2014 Kids Count Report, “one of the most troubling trends for child well-being is the steady decline in the percentage of children living with two married parents.” 2013 data indicates, 131,000 or 30% of Nebraska children lived in single parent homes. In 2012, nationally, 35 percent of children were living with a single parent, with about half of all children spending a portion of their childhood in a single-parent home.
It is natural when single parents are hurting, to want to be the parent who the children prefers to be with. Children learn quickly which parent will say “yes” and which parent will say “no” to specific requests. It is easy for children to create “competition” between parents about who will provide the most things or which parent will lighten up on the rules in order to be “the preferred parent.” During divorce and custody, parents typically have less time to spend with their children and less money to buy children the things they need and or want.
For these reasons co-parents want to give children additional gifts, stretch the rules and plan special experiences. It is typical for one parent to have more discretionary income than the other. When parents try to gain their child’s love by providing stuff, entertainment, and unjustified privileges children may become manipulative and feel entitled. Here are a few strategies which create cooperation in which the children and parents both benefit.
- Come up with an agreement with the other parent about how much stuff children really need. Flexibility is also important.
- If one parent, or possibly grandparents are able to provide “the extras” such as violin lessons and soccer shoes, the co-parent can “reframe” and feel grateful rather than feeling inadequate.
- It is OK to say “It is not in my budget” in a kind way which lets the kids know you are appreciative about what the other parent is able to provide.
- Plan family time to communicate and teach life skills. These may include family meals, homework, household chores, pick-up basketball games or going to the park.
- Provide the “extras” such as a new bicycle or a concert ticket on special occasions. This will create special memories, and minimize the sense of entitlement.
- Set at least 6 rules that both homes will stick to so there is consistence between houses. The more guidelines or rules that both houses can agree on, the easier it will be for both parents as well as children.
Continue to strive for cooperative relationships with your co-parent to best meet the unique needs of each of your children. It’s not easy, however it is worth it.
Click here for additional information about creating peaceful solutions for children and parents who are experiencing divorce, separation or custody transitions.
Gail Brand, Extension Educator | The Learning Child
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